Balloon Antenna Doesn’t Need A Tower

What do you do with floral wire and balloons from Dollar Tree? If you are [Ham Radio Crash Course], you make a ham radio antenna. Floral wire is conductive, and using one piece as a literal sky hook and the other as a ground wire, it should do something. He did use, as you might expect, a tuner to match the random wire length.

The first attempt had too few balloons and too much wind. He eventually switched to a non-dollar store helium tank. That balloon inflates to about 36 inches and appears to have plenty of lift. It looks like by the end he was using two of them.

One of the difficulties with the wind was that the line kept tangling on other antennas. But if you really wanted to use a balloon antenna, we’d guess you don’t already have some large antennas in the way. We do hope, though, that the utility lines you can see behind the yard are further away then they look. Tangling in those would be detrimental to your health and your radio.

It looks like the antenna did a good job, although using PSK31 can cover a multitude of sins since you don’t need a lot of signal to make contacts with that mode.

We’ve seen emergency antennas lofted by kites and balloons, especially for the military. Not the first time one of those helium canisters has shown up, either.


20 thoughts on “Balloon Antenna Doesn’t Need A Tower

  1. Seems like a waste of helium to me. Wire is heavy, and the balloons are tuned to just be buoyant enough to float. Many years ago when I was in college there was a restaurant that had gigantic margaritas that came with balloons attached and they also had napkin rings. We were just about walking into doors before we could get one of the napkin rings off the ground. I think our experiment was more fun.

    You might try some of the larger sky lanterns, but I would not hold out a lot of hope.

    An arrow with a string over a tree branch has been pretty dependable. No issues with lift, and wind is much less of an issue.

    1. That’s fine if you own the tree. If you don’t, MESS YOU UP BUDDY!

      As someone who lives in an apartment building and tries to get along with neighbors I’m always interested in articles like this. Thank you!

    2. lol

      forget the arrow!

      we ended up with 100’s of spools of pink hookup wire, it got used for stuff it shouldn’t have been

      in malley scrub near Mount Bryan, walking through the trees, tossing a spool over trees a few times

      antenna tuner was from a gainsborough press reprint

      the Realistic DX 160 was great in the field, with a 200 – 400 metre antenna we were listening to stuff during the day

        1. For balloons, hydrogen is fine. You just want to keep it separate from oxygen as much as possible. Keeping the one gas inside the balloon, and the other outside, suffices.

          If you mess that up, keep it away from sparks or open flame.

          Hydrogen is also a lot easier to make at home than helium is. I’ve made some pretty big mylar baloons (thin mylar, heat-weld the seams) and filled them with my own hydrogen. Lye + aluminum is fast, but exothermic and accelerating if you can’t actively cool it off. Hydrolysis is slow but reliable, and sourcing water and electricity is pretty easy.

  2. Beware of where that wire may fall. Besides you will get lower noise floor well away from power lines as well as not knocking over any drinks. Do they still sell surplus weather balloons?

  3. Aluminum scrap, sodium hydroxide (aka Draino) and a gallon jug are a great way to fill balloons with hydrogen at very low cost and almost no risk if you understand working with lye safely (i.e. glasses, add lye to water, etc).

    1. I was getting water vapor too which adds weight. I had to let that condense to get it out. Read the bottle very carefully. Not all drano has sodium hydroxide. Found that out the hard way. Usually the cheapest unscented bottles are what you want.

    2. If you’re doing this on the scale to lift this antenna:

      a) you’ll need to keep the alu + lye mixture from runaway heating — a cooling bath with a bunch of ice cubes on hand is a good call. (Ask me how I know!)

      b) in case things get hot, you’ll want to bubble the result through some clean water to strip out some of the lye from the resulting steam, and make sure that the (mostly) hydrogen is cooled down.

      Draino is not lye — they add some funny crystals to it, and I would avoid them on principle, although I think they’re aluminum salts to heat up / speed up the reaction in your drains.

      Anyway, pure lye is easy enough to get, and you know what you’re dealing with.

  4. I’d toyed with the idea of making an inflatable discone antennae using conductive fabric inside a membrane made from the same stuff as those inflatable chairs from the 90’s. Fill it with hydrogen and you’ve got a floating antennae. The discone shape means it doesn’t matter if the wind spins it round and for me, the chance of an explosion from the hydrogen only improves the idea.

  5. Still like to see a drone that get powered by a wire AND keep the antenna in the air.

    Few month ago I have seen a robot that had a wired Quadrocopter look in to high shelves.
    So it is possible. But I’m afraid that the wire will get to heavy if you increase the length

  6. basic principle was good – but as someone mentioned – I’d like to try w/ weather ballon. Or more cool would be a model rocket — now that would be something I’d pay to see. Just have to figure out how not to scorch the feedline.
    Second idea — get a drone/RC airplane/helo and launch it vertically — like one of those bad boy fighter jets. Nah – need something slow and steady that can gain and hold altitude…mmmmmhhhh got the brain juices flowing.

    1. Some local hams were using kites. If I remember correctly they had a simple circuit to deal with static electricity due to wind charging the wire.

      You could probably run 2 wires to a drone and power the drone from a power supply on the ground while simultaneously using them as antennas. Same way you power an lna.

  7. The real limit here is the weight of the wire connecting the antenna to the ground station. Seems like you could replace that with a radio connection…

    (That was meant to be a joke, but then I realized I just invented the balloon-based repeater.)

  8. Skyhooks are great except when they cross power lines. Then you’re instantly dead.
    It may be obvious to most, but given the unpredictability of winds make sure you’re much further from power poles than the maximum wire length.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.